This year’s Brazil’s Carnaval celebrations drew to an end that jolted many back into sobriety: President Jair Bolsonaro tweeted to his 3.6 million followers a video that would reveal to the world the “real truth” about what happens at Brazil’s Carnaval. President Bolsonaro’s intent was to condemn Brazil’s Carnaval as a party of “orgy and sexual depravity.” Carnaval is Brazil’s most famous national party, with deep roots in Brazil’s African heritage.
In his infamous tweet, Brazil’s newly elected President shared a pornographic video, where two scantily dressed men danced sensually on top of a bus shelter, culminating in one urinating on the head of the second. President Bolsonaro shared it with his follower’s without any explicit content warming, potentially exposing children and adults with sensitive views to this video.
According to sources, the video was taken on the third day of Carnaval at a São Paulo street party, which had the theme “celebrating diversity.” Interestingly, what was “revealed” by President Bolsonaro is a situation which has never been witnessed by most Brazilians, and does not reflect what Carnaval really is or what Carnaval represents for Brazil’s popular culture.
Notwithstanding, President Bolsonaro tweeted the following day: “What is a golden shower.” Public outrage ensued, with many Brazilians protesting against Bolsonaro take on Brazil’s most democratic party with the hashtags #bolsonarogoldenshower #bolsonaroIMPEACHMENT #BolsonaroTeEnganouBabaca (#BolsonaroLiedToYouFool) #BolsonaroGoldenShower #Bolsomijo (#Bolsopee).
Some even argued that the President has breached the Brazilian Constitution and should be impeached. Surprisingly, Bolsonaro supporters jumped in his defense with the hashtag #BolsonaroTemRazao (#BolsonaroIsRight), most of them conservative Pentecostals – a significant base of his political support. But what are the main causes for Bolsonaro to lash out against Carnaval, Brazil’s most pluralistic and democratic popular party?
Carnaval, Diversity, and Freedom of Expression
Brazil’s Carnaval is a nationwide street party and a time of the year where people from all walks of life, socioeconomic backgrounds and different races hit the streets and celebrate together. Moreover, Carnaval is the ultimate expression of Brazil’s creativity, diversity, and irreverence. Carnaval is also the time when economically vulnerable communities in Rio de Janeiro organize beautiful Carnaval parades at Marques de Sapucaí, expressing their social reality through glamour, art, dance, and samba.
During this year’s Carnaval there were widespread anti-Bolsonaro manifestations throughout the country. In Bahia, for instance, where the majority of the population is of African descent or mixed color, Carnaval celebrations were marked by political indignation and protests against Bolsonaro’s views on race, gender, indigenous people and the LGBT community. (1)
This culminated in Bahia’s Carnaval trio-elétricos and Salvador street parties chanting “Ei Bolsonaro, vai tomar no c..!” (Hey Bolsonaro, go and get screwed), with videos going viral under the hashtag #BolsonaroVaiTomarNoCu (#BolsonaroGoAndGetSchrewd). (2)
In São Paulo, anti-Bolsonaro chants, protests, and masks started already on pre-Carnaval parties. Approximately one million people paraded with São Paulo’s progressive bloco Acadêmicos do Baixo Augusta. This year’s parade theme was a tribute to musician Caetano Veloso’s song ‘É proibido proibir’ (It is forbidden to forbid).
Many protested Brazil’s current national politics with placards saying Damares Alves, Homophobia and Bolsonaro. There are reports that people chanted throughout the night “Ei Bolsonaro, vai tomar no c..!” (Hey Bolsonaro, go and get screwed), with the support of the bloco’s performing drums and music with other parading celebrities chanting ‘ele não’ (not him) and ‘ele nunca’ (never him).(3)
In Belo Horizonte, during Carnaval’s traditional Saturday opening celebrations the ‘Então Brilha’ (‘Then Shine’) parade had a wave of people chanting “Ei Bolsonaro…vai tomar no c..!” (Hey Bolsonaro, go and get screwed). Arguably, another reason for popular discontentment with the Bolsonaro administration are changes in national age retirement, which will soon be introduced, increasing Brazil’s retirement age to a minimum of 65 years.
This protest is also a response to military policy attempts to suppress anti-Bolsonaro manifestations during pre-Carnaval street parties in the state of Minas Gerais. It was reported that the Tchanzinho Zona Norte bloco was threatened by Brazil’s military policy after an anti-Bolsonaro chant.(4)
Meanwhile, in Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval, Mangueira samba school won this year’s competition with the theme História pra ninar gente grande (History as a lullaby for grownups). The samba school’s theme deconstructed Brazil’s history books by telling Brazil’s history through the lenses of African, Indians and demolishing colonizer’s myths.
This was a tribute to forgotten Brazilian black, indigenous and women leaders – which are segments of Brazil’s society that Bolsonaro attempts to marginalize. Additionally, Mangueira paid tribute to Human Rights and LGBT activist Marielle Franco from the political party PSOL, assassinated last year.
Other themes shown by Mangueira included an allegory with past military repression, political persecution, and torture during Brazil’s 20 years of military dictatorship – a direct assault on President Bolsonaro’s views on the military regime. Some argue that Mangueira’s Carnaval victory consolidates Bolsonaro’s political demise during this year’s Carnaval.(5)
Bolsonaro, Gender Intolerance and Brazil’s Pentecostalism.
President Bolsonaro’s minister for Women, Family and Human Rights, evangelical pastor Damares Alves, has sparked controversy in several of her statements. Alves argued that “16 years ago we used to talk about a gay dictatorship in Brazil. What are we living today? A gay dictatorship.”
Last January, during her inauguration as a federal minister, Damares Alves caused public outrage when she stated that: “Brazil was initiating a new era, where boys wear blue and girls wear pink.” Damares Alves controversial statements are not restricted to Brazil’s domestic policy, also affecting Brazil-EU relations. Recently, she has ruffled feathers in the Netherlands for arguing that “in the Netherlands parents masturbate their children.”
This matter has recently been mentioned with outrage in the Netherland’s political debate. Alves has also argued that “Europe is already influencing what we learn in Brazilian schools, to learn how to masturbate our babies since they are seven months old.” Moreover, Alves recently stated that due to Brazil’s high statistics towards violence against women, “parents who had daughters should take them out of the country.”(6)
Notwithstanding, Alves holds controversial views on the role played by the church and religious teaching, blurring lines between the church and state. During her time as a pastor, Alves argued that the church lost traction in Brazil’s political influence for ‘allowing’ the theory of evolution to integrate the National Curriculum.
She has allegedly argued in an interview with Pastor Cynthia Ferreira from the website Fé em Jesus (Faith in Jesus): “The Evangelical Church has lost historical influence in the country. We have lost influence in science when we allow the theory of evolution to get into our schools. When we don’t question…When we (the church) don’t teach science…The Evangelical Church has neglected science… Ah, let’s science find its own way. Then scientists took over this area. And we moved away.”(7)
Having said that, President Bolsonaro’s lashing out against Brazil’s Carnaval is not a surprising development. Brazil’s ultra-conservative Pentecostals argue that “true Christians cannot participate in Brazil’s Carnaval” as it is an immoral party to “celebrate evil deeds and the pleasures of the flesh”(8)
In this year’s Rio’s Carnaval the city Mayor, Pentecostal Pastor Marcello Crivella was a no show during the city’s celebrations. Since the inauguration of the Sambódromo in 1984, this is the first time that a recently elected city Mayor plans to ‘travel’ instead of taking part in the city’s festivities.
Additionally, Pastor Crivella abstained from handing over the city’s keys to the Momo King, an old tradition marking the beginning of Carnaval.(9) Regrettably, President Bolsonaro’s far-right and ultra-conservative Pentecostal support base promotes a worldview which demonizes the LGBT community and promotes socio-political intolerance towards minority groups, with blatant indifference towards gendered violence to women and girls.
President Bolsonaro’s criticism of Carnaval ends up tarnishing his own image overseas and exposing him to ridicule. However, the Brazilian’s ideological agenda should not be underestimated, with this recent incident signaling turbulent times for Brazil’s domestic politics.
Bolsonaro’s ultra-conservative and moralist views on Brazil’s Carnaval and his indignation towards political criticism is highly problematic in two ways: firstly, it indicates how poorly President Bolsonaro handles political opposition and democratic manifestations, secondly, it demonstrates an increasing meddling of Pentecostalism and religious indoctrination in Brazil’s state apparatus and political discourses more broadly.
This will continue to fuel Brazil’s increasing political polarization and the demonization of political dissidents. Not a good combination for any healthy functioning democracy.
Flavia Bellieni Zimmermann is a Teaching Fellow and a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Western Australia, School of Social Science, Political Science and International Relations. She holds a Graduate Diploma of International Relations and Security Studies from Curtin University, Western Australia, and a Bachelor of Laws with first class honors from the Pontifical Catholic University from Rio de Janeiro (PUC-RJ), Brazil. Flavia is also associated with the University of Western Australia Centre for Muslim States and Societies. She is the Commissioning Editor for the Australian Institute of International Affairs blog The Australian Outlook, voted the top think tank in South Asia and the Pacific in the Global Go-To Think Tanks Index in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Flavia has wide interview experience and has published several opinion pieces in the field of international relations. She is also the Chair for the International Association for Political Science Students (IAPSS) Outreach Program in Oceania, with headquarters in the Netherlands.